It doesn’t feel like all that long ago that the notion of a Jaguar SUV seemed a strange concept. Of course, we know how the market has shifted in recent years, and Jaguar now offering three SUVs was clearly the right move from a business perspective – they actually sell, while the marque’s traditional sedans clearly, and unfortunately, don’t.
I was certainly one of the early sceptics of a big lifted Jag – sister company Land Rover already catered to that market, I thought. This was all the way back in 2016, though, and I’d only just started getting published as a young, fledgeling journalist. The experiences and wisdom garnered since then showed me from the very first time I drove the F-Pace, Jaguar’s first SUV model, that I was quite wrong to be worried.
Positioning itself squarely as an outright sporty alternative to Land Rover’s rugged and luxurious offerings, it became apparently clear that Jaguar DNA was woven into it. A clear driver’s car that just happened to have more ground clearance, it really did put the ‘Sport’ in Sports Utility Vehicle both visually and dynamically.
Six years on, the SUV market has only ballooned more, and other companies have developed the know-how to make their SUVs handle and perform better as well, and with the F-Pace staying unchanged for so long, Jag has had some catching up to do. Fresh off the back of a facelift mid-way through 2021, from the outside, it looks as though it’s got itself up off the couch and right back into shape.
The one thing most SUV makers have struggled with, quite obviously, is styling. Let’s be frank – the majority don’t look that good, with the offerings from Genesis and Land Rover being the only ones to really tickle my fancy. Even though the updates here are only minor, the F-Pace still easily remains one of the absolute best-looking of the lot – a tiny bit of nip and tuck, some new headlights and taillights, and truly gargantuan 22-inch wheels are all it needed to look utterly modern despite the fundamental design staying the same. To my eye, it’s a right stunner.
It’s on the inside where the main changes have been made, though, which is really where they needed to be. It may have still looked pretty flash outside, but the F-Pace was feeling not only dated but also a bit cheap inside.
Now, the cabin looks a whole generation newer. The big 11.4-inch floating touchscreen stands out as a futuristic centrepiece, and the new Pivi Pro operating system looks great and is incredibly slick to use, feeling more intuitive and responsive than the InControl Touch Pro system it replaces. The digital instrument cluster also looks crystal clear as well, and offers a great array of configurability with a traditional two-dial, centred single-dial, and full map modes.
The actual cabin design feels far more modern as well, with the dashboard now bolder with straighter lines and fewer curves, and the steering wheel looking far more modern also. The materials feel like a step up as well, particularly in this HSE R-Dynamic version – topped only in the range by the SVR. Jaguar’s Windsor leather always felt amazing, so it’s great that there’s more of it here. In the Mars Red of my tester, it also look particularly striking.
The open-pore Satin Charcoal Ash trim looks gorgeous as well, and with a Suedecloth headliner and vastly improved plastics in the lower half of the cabin, it feels more premium and befitting of its price tag from top to bottom – that price tag being $110,280 to start with and $123,459 as tested. It feels more solidly bolted together as well, which is important given build quality was often a complaint of it before.
Given HSE stands for ‘High Specification Equipment’, it’s loaded with even more features beyond the big screens as well. Although 14-way performance seats with heating and ventilation are standard, the 16-way sports seats fitted to my tester are a no cost option and add in an amazing massage function. There’s also an excellent 13-speaker Meridian audio system that adds active noise cancelling to keep this already quiet cabin totally serene.
It’s got a strong amount of safety tech including a 3D camera system, lane keep assist, blind spot and rear cross-traffic assist, and autonomous emergency braking. It’s a shame there’s no Level 2 semi-autonomous driving assistance, however, which is slowly becoming standard in many cheaper cars out there.
Ergonomically, I do have a few minor qualms – the front seats don’t feel as though they’re centred between the doors and the centre console, and the back seat does feel a little cramped – but these are admittedly hang-overs from the original six-year old design. Overall, though, this is a truly nice cabin and a definite step up from before.
This being the P400 model means it’s sporting Jaguar’s newest engine – the 3.0-litre ‘Ingenium’ straight-six which has been fitted with a turbocharger, small electric supercharger, and a 48V mild hybrid system to combine for a very healthy 294kW from 5500-6500rpm and 550Nm from 2000-5000rpm. Hooked up to a ZF eight-speed automatic and rear-biased all-wheel drive, it’s good for 0-100km/h in 5.4 seconds. For a non-performance model, those are certainly all very strong numbers on paper.
As I found when testing the Land Rover Defender with this same engine, it has a pleasantly relaxed character to it when you’re simply cruising around in it. Not only does the engine feel incredibly smooth low-down, but the ZF transmission is working at its best then also. Combine that with the F-Pace’s rather exceptional ride quality for a car on 22-inch wheels – you’ll only ever feel the very worst bumps you encounter – and for daily driving, it’s a genuine pleasure.
Given the F-Pace’s distinctly sporty edge, however, it’s clear when you put your foot down that this has been tuned to really remind you of it. Where other P400 models like the Defender always feel smooth and a bit relaxed through the rev range, the F-Pace’s sharper throttle response – only aided further by the electric supercharger – really helps it get up and go, and the way it continues to build speed with such strength and ferocity once you’re in lose-your-license territory is seriously impressive. Peak power plateauing across the final thousand revs only makes it feel more muscular as well given its consistent pull, and the decent exhaust note is a nice touch as well.
So it feels utterly relaxed around town and incredibly fast and buff at full-throttle, which is obviously great, but by no means is that where the story ends with the F-Pace. The thing is, in an area like where I live – with amazing but very tight driving roads, and also a heavy level of policing – a car feeling smooth and progressive at mid-throttle is most important for having fun and keeping your license. This is where the Jag unfortunately falters.
What’s exacerbated most when you try to gradually lay on the power is just how much turbo lag this engine suffers from. It’s like an old rally car – incredibly entertaining when you’ve got enough room to wait for it to wind up, but a bit frustrating in the real world. You’d think that the electric supercharger would do a better job of filling in the gap, but the lag is just that pronounced – perhaps the key to explaining it is peak torque coming on 500rpm later than in the vast majority of other modern turbocharged engines.
The transmission also struggles to feel at its best in situations like these, with it really taking its time to swap ratios, trying to remain smooth rather than jumping into the next as it does with the throttle pinned. Using the paddles (which are big and feel excellent) only adds to the tedium, as they appear to send commands to the gearbox by snail mail.
In the vast majority of its other applications, this ZF 8HP performs exquisitely well – be that in other manufacturers’ vehicles or those within the family, such as Land Rovers, Range Rovers, and the Jaguar F-Type. Similarly poor shift logic is something I’ve noted with the Jaguar XE in the past, though, so something’s up when it comes to this latest crop of Ingenium-engined models. Of course, you can find ways to anticipate and plan around its slow downshifts to bring the best out of it, but really, you shouldn’t have to.
The F-Pace does at least still handle well, with the steering feeling nice and weighty and the adaptive dampers doing a good job of keeping it level and composed through bends, along with absorbing and ironing out the mid-corner bumps that are characteristic of Australian backroads.
It should be noted, though, that even though it still handles well, it does feel heavier through the corners than before – perhaps not a surprise when at 2028kg, it’s more than 150kg heavier than its predecessor, the 35t S with the out-of-production supercharged V6.
This all leaves the F-Pace in a bit of an awkward spot for me. On one hand, it’s even more attractive than it already was, the technology and build quality has taken a truly huge step up, and this new engine is monstrously powerful yet incredibly relaxed and sedate when you want it to be. On the other, it’s not as responsive, nor does it feel as athletic carrying that extra heft around.
With some revisions to its driveline tuning to prioritise responsiveness and smoothness at all degrees of throttle input, it really would be ticking all the right boxes because the improvements in every other area have taken such a great step forward – it’s just when it comes to its drivability where it’s taken a bit of a hit, and it’s the exact same hit I saw the XE take as well.
For the majority of buyers, none of this will be an issue, of course. If you love the looks and the interior as much as I do, and you’re only really going to be cruising around town or on the open road in this, it’ll be sublime. It’s just if you’re like me and you want to enjoy a good backroad that it might frustrate a touch. All I hope is that I can have a go in an SVR sometime soon, because something tells me I may not have the same qualms with that.
2021 Jaguar F-Pace P400 HSE R-Dynamic AWD List Price: $110,280 | As Tested: $123,459
- Performance - 8/108/10
- Ride & Handling - 8.5/108.5/10
- Tech & Features - 9/109/10
- Practicality - 7.5/107.5/10
- Value for Money - 7.5/107.5/10
Pros: Build quality and materials are a big improvement, the new Pivi Pro infotainment system is slick and the big screen looks great, feels incredibly relaxed and supple around town, looks stunning for an SUV
Cons: Too much turbo lag, transmission’s shift logic misses the mark in mid-throttle situations, feels heavier than before due to its 150kg+ weight increase
In a nutshell: If you’re looking for a relaxed around-town cruiser or an open-road mile-muncher, the Jaguar F-Pace P400 will be ideal for the job. On a twisting backroad, though, it might frustrate a touch due to the turbo lag and poor shift logic.
Photography by Marcus Cardone.
Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Jaguar Land Rover Australia for a week with a full tank of fuel. All additional fuel costs were covered by the author.
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